For someone whose work has been often criticized by “the” Jose Garcia Villa (a Filipino poet, literary critic, short story writer, and painter), Angela Manalang-Gloria (1907-1993) had stood strong and her poems are only now being appreciated.
Not only was her work underappreciated, her life went into a rough patch as well. She contracted tuberculosis, her husband died under Japanese hands, her son suffered a severe trauma under the same Japanese attack, and she was forced to quit writing to focus on abaca business in order to feed three mouths.
Her work, Poems (1940), is considered as the first and only pre-war anthology of poetry in English by a Filipino woman. The poems belong to a collection of lyrical pieces that explore a woman’s passion, such as love. Several of her poems can be read online. They are short, witty, and thought-provoking--a few words, a wealth of images. Her most controversial is “Revolt from Hymen”, which negatively provoked the conservative and patriarchal society dominating the Philippines during the pre-war period.
O to be free at last, to sleep at last
As infants sleep within the womb of rest!
To stir and stirring find no blackness vast
With passion weighted down upon the breast,
To turn the face this way and that and feel
No kisses festering on it like sores,
To be alone at last, broken the seal
That marks the flesh no better than a whore's!
Here is another one:
It was a sacrilege, the neighbors cried,
The way she shattered every mullioned pane
To let a firebrand in. They tried in vain
To understand how one so carved from pride
And glassed in dream could have so flung aside
Her graven days, or why she dared profane
The bread and wine of life for some insane
Moment with him. The scandal never died.
But no one guessed that loveliness would claim
Her soul's cathedral burned by his desires
Or that he left her aureoled in flame…
And seeing nothing but her blackened spires,
The town condemned this girl who loved too well
and found her heaven in the depths of hell.
- Nancy -